by Gabe Bullard
In eight days, Republican voters in Jefferson County will choose a nominee who’s hoping to become Louisville’s first GOP mayor in decades.
The two frontrunners in the Republican primary are asking voters to choose between experience and activism. The experience candidate is two-term Metro Councilman Hal Heiner. The activist is Chris Thieneman. Both are developers in their private careers.
In the first poll from the Courier-Journal and WHAS-11, Heiner held 30 percent of the vote…4 points behind Thieneman. Weeks later, a similar poll put Heiner in the lead at 42 percent and Thieneman had dropped to 25.
In his campaign office on Ducthman’s Lane, Heiner reflects on the poll. He says when it comes time to choose a leader, many voters want someone with a history of policymaking.
“I think someone that has some experience in government, it gives them the ability to have a quicker start, and that’s my goal for this next administration—that it would hit the ground running,” he says.
As a councilman, Heiner has been a frequent critic and opponent of Mayor Jerry Abramson’s agenda. Thieneman has compared Heiner to the mayor, calling them both insiders and career politicians. But Heiner says after eight years in office, he’s hardly an insider. Further, he says the election isn’t a referendum on Abramson, and even if it were, his actions trump Theineman’s attacks.
“The next mayor needs to be able to not just stand out and say ‘That’s wrong and it shouldn’t be done,’ but actually pull people together from throughout the community and try to decide how to move forward and then actually move forward,” says Heiner.
After the first poll, Heiner launched television ads and continued campaigning in person. He gained momentum and says the campaign won’t change course to address shifts in the polls or attacks from opponents. But with nearly a quarter of voters undecided, Chris Thieneman is plotting his stretch run.
“I’ve been walking everywhere,” he says.
Thieneman has been campaigning door to door in many precincts, focusing on the edges of the county where Republican voters are the most concentrated. He also launched a television campaign last week.
“They’re not going to miss seeing me on television, any more than they’ve been watching my opponent,” says Thieneman.
By touting his history of criticizing Metro Government, Thieneman has positioned himself as the anti-Abramson and anti-establishment candidate, with hopes that dissatisfaction with the mayor and incumbents in general will resonate with GOP voters.
“I think the citizens now more than ever want someone who’s not a career politician,” he says. “If you notice Rand Paul in his commercials, that’s what he’s touting and it’s working.”
“That’s what I hear,” says Jonathan Roberston. “That’s what we need: we need somebody that’s not a politician, that’s not part of how things are.”
Robertson is also running for mayor. He says nobody in the Republican primary is more of an outsider than him. An IT professional and political newcomer, Robertson has promised to give the city a high-tech makeover if elected but with a single-digit showing the polls, Robertson says his message never caught on.
“Lots of people, I think, didn’t think I was serious,” he says. “They thought I got in it just because.”
Even though he acknowleges he’s a longshot, Robertson says he isn’t giving up. He’ll keep campaigning until the May 18th primary, and he says he may run for office again—as an outsider.